“A very great and noble city. … It has 1,600 stone bridges under which a galley may pass.”
— Venetian Merchant Traveler Marco Polo, on Suzhou
Suzhou, nicknamed “Venice of the East,” hides many striking gardens in the midst of its streets and canals. Suzhou is a ancient gem, filled with canals, bridges, and its famous gardens. The hub of silk production in China, Suzhou was for centuries a trendy residence for scholars, officials, and merchants. Eager to fill their leisure hours with beauty, they built private gardens in which to escape from the hurly-burly of city life.
With a history of more than 2,500 years, the Suzhou gardens were brought into existence by matching buildings, rockeries, watercourses, and vegetation, transcending reality to ideality. A large number of the Ming and Qing Dynasties gardens have survived to the contemporary days and are spread all over the city of Suzhou. UNESCO has inscribed nine of them on the World Heritage List during recent years.
There were once 200 private gardens in the city, each planned as a harmonious combination of the elements. Rocks, ponds, trees, and pavilions were placed scrupulously so that the view was picture perfect, wherever one sat. Fewer than half the gardens endure today, but the largest of Suzhou’s gardens open to the public, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, dates from the Ming dynasty. The garden was named after a verse by Pan Yue’s Idler’s Prose, “I enjoy a carefree life by planting trees and building my own house…I irrigate my garden and grow vegetables for me to eat…such a life suits a retired official like me well.” It radiates with bamboo and bonsai, clear, chattering streams, meticulously molded rock pools, and pavilions with inverted roofs. More than half of the garden is filled with water, and intricately latticed walkways let erstwhile scholars to marvel at the landscapes even in rain and snow. Also worth visiting are the craftily designed Lingering Garden, the long walkway of which is adorned with calligraphy, and the Blue Wave Pavilion, an eleventh-century retreat featuring glorious, mature trees.
The Garden of the Master of Nets blends vertical with horizontal, water with land, and yin with yang. This specific garden masterfully uses windows, walls, ponds, and plants to fashion a apparently widespread oasis on a small plot of land in town.